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An essay by Charles Kingsley

Ancient Civilisation

Title:     Ancient Civilisation
Author: Charles Kingsley [More Titles by Kingsley]


FOOTNOTE: {5} This lecture was given in America in 1874.

FOOTNOTE: {6} This lecture and the two preceding ones,
being published after the author's death, have not had
the benefit of his corrections.

There is a theory abroad in the world just now about the origin of the human race, which has so many patent and powerful physiological facts to support it that we must not lightly say that it is absurd or impossible; and that is, that man's mortal body and brain were derived from some animal and ape-like creature. Of that I am not going to speak now. My subject is: How this creature called man, from whatever source derived, became civilised, rational, and moral. And I am sorry to say that there is tacked on by many to the first theory, another which does not follow from it, and which has really nothing to do with it, and it is this: That man, with all his wonderful and mysterious aspirations, always unfulfilled yet always precious, at once his torment and his joy, his very hope of everlasting life; that man, I say, developed himself, unassisted, out of a state of primaeval brutishness, simply by calculations of pleasure and pain, by observing what actions would pay in the long run and what would not; and so learnt to conquer his selfishness by a more refined and extended selfishness, and exchanged his brutality for worldliness, and then, in a few instances, his worldliness for next- worldliness. I hope I need not say that I do not believe this theory. If I did, I could not be a Christian, I think, nor a philosopher either. At least, if I thought that human civilisation had sprung from such a dunghill as that, I should, in honour to my race, say nothing about it, here or elsewhere.

Why talk of the shame of our ancestors? I want to talk of their honour and glory. I want to talk, if I talk at all, about great times, about noble epochs, noble movements, noble deeds, and noble folk; about times in which the human race--it may be through many mistakes, alas! and sin, and sorrow, and blood-shed--struggled up one step higher on those great stairs which, as we hope, lead upward towards the far-off city of God; the perfect polity, the perfect civilisation, the perfect religion, which is eternal in the heavens.

Of great men, then, and noble deeds I want to speak. I am bound to do so first, in courtesy to my hearers. For in choosing such a subject I took for granted a nobleness and greatness of mind in them which can appreciate and enjoy the contemplation of that which is lofty and heroic, and that which is useful indeed, though not to the purses merely or the mouths of men, but to their intellects and spirits; that highest philosophy which, though she can (as has been sneeringly said of her) bake no bread, she--and she alone, can at least do this--make men worthy to eat the bread which God has given them.

I am bound to speak on such subjects, because I have never yet met, or read of, the human company who did not require, now and then at least, being reminded of such times and such personages--of whatsoever things are just, pure, true, lovely, and of good report, if there be any manhood and any praise to think, as St. Paul bids us all, of such things, that we may keep up in our minds as much as possible a lofty standard, a pure ideal, instead of sinking to the mere selfish standard which judges all things, even those of the world to come, by profit and by loss, and into that sordid frame of mind in which a man grows to believe that the world is constructed of bricks and timber, and kept going by the price of stocks.

We are all tempted, and the easier and more prosperous we are, the more we are tempted, to fall into that sordid and shallow frame of mind. Sordid even when its projects are most daring, its outward luxuries most refined; and shallow, even when most acute, when priding itself most on its knowledge of human nature, and of the secret springs which, so it dreams, move the actions and make the history of nations and of men. All are tempted that way, even the noblest-hearted. _Adhaesit pavimento venter_, says the old psalmist. I am growing like the snake, crawling in the dust, and eating the dust in which I crawl. I try to lift up my eyes to the heavens, to the true, the beautiful, the good, the eternal nobleness which was before all time, and shall be still when time has passed away. But to lift up myself is what I cannot do. Who will help me? Who will quicken me? as our old English tongue has it. Who will give me life? The true, pure, lofty human life which I did _not_ inherit from the primaeval ape, which the ape-nature in me is for ever trying to stifle, and make me that which I know too well I could so easily become--a cunninger and more dainty-featured brute? Death itself, which seems at times so fair, is fair because even it may raise me up and deliver me from the burden of this animal and mortal body:

'Tis life, not death for which I pant;
'Tis life, whereof my nerves are scant;
More life, and fuller, that I want.

Man? I am a man not by reason of my bones and muscles, nerves and brain, which I have in common with apes and dogs and horses. I am a man--thou art a man or woman--not because we have a flesh--God forbid! but because there is a spirit in us, a divine spark and ray, which nature did not give, and which nature cannot take away. And therefore, while I live on earth, I will live to the spirit, not to the flesh, that I may be, indeed, a _man_; and this same gross flesh, this animal ape-nature in me, shall be the very element in me which I will renounce, defy, despise; at least, if I am minded to be, not a merely higher savage, but a truly higher civilised man. Civilisation with me shall mean, not more wealth, more finery, more self-indulgence--even more aesthetic and artistic luxury; but more virtue, more knowledge, more self-control, even though I earn scanty bread by heavy toil; and when I compare the Caesar of Rome or the great king, whether of Egypt, Babylon, or Persia, with the hermit of the Thebaid, starving in his frock of camel's hair, with his soul fixed on the ineffable glories of the unseen, and striving, however wildly and fantastically, to become an angel and not an ape, I will say the hermit, and not the Caesar, is the civilised man.

There are plenty of histories of civilisation and theories of civilisation abroad in the world just now, and which profess to show you how the primeval savage has, or at least may have, become the civilised man. For my part, with all due and careful consideration, I confess I attach very little value to any of them: and for this simple reason that we have no facts. The facts are lost.

Of course, if you assume a proposition as certainly true, it is easy enough to prove that proposition to be true, at least to your own satisfaction. If you assert with the old proverb, that you may make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, you will be stupider than I dare suppose anyone here to be, if you cannot invent for yourselves all the intermediate stages of the transformation, however startling. And, indeed, if modern philosophers had stuck more closely to this old proverb, and its defining verb "make," and tried to show how some person or persons--let them be who they may--men, angels, or gods--made the sow's ear into the silk purse, and the savage into the sage--they might have pleaded that they were still trying to keep their feet upon the firm ground of actual experience. But while their theory is, that the sow's ear grew into a silk purse of itself, and yet unconsciously and without any intention of so bettering itself in life, why, I think that those who have studied the history which lies behind them, and the poor human nature which is struggling, and sinning, and sorrowing, and failing around them, and which seems on the greater part of this planet going downwards and not upwards, and by no means bettering itself, save in the increase of opera-houses, liquor-bars, and gambling-tables, and that which pertaineth thereto; then we, I think, may be excused if we say with the old Stoics--[Greek text]--I withhold my judgment. I know nothing about the matter yet; and you, oh my imaginative though learned friends, know I suspect very little either.

Eldest of things, Divine Equality:

so sang poor Shelley, and with a certain truth. For if, as I believe, the human race sprang from a single pair, there must have been among their individual descendants an equality far greater than any which has been known on earth during historic times. But that equality was at best the infantile innocence of the primary race, which faded away in the race as quickly, alas! as it does in the individual child. Divine--therefore it was one of the first blessings which man lost; one of the last, I fear, to which he will return; that to which civilisation, even at its best yet known, has not yet attained, save here and there for short periods; but towards which it is striving as an ideal goal, and, as I trust, not in vain.

The eldest of things which we see actually as history is not equality, but an already developed hideous inequality, trying to perpetuate itself, and yet by a most divine and gracious law, destroying itself by the very means which it uses to keep itself alive.

"There were giants in the earth in those days. And Nimrod began to be a mighty one in the earth"--

A mighty hunter; and his game was man.

No; it is not equality which we see through the dim mist of bygone ages.

What we do see is--I know not whether you will think me superstitious or old-fashioned, but so I hold--very much what the earlier books of the Bible show us under symbolic laws. Greek histories, Roman histories, Egyptian histories, Eastern histories, inscriptions, national epics, legends, fragments of legends--in the New World as in the Old--all tell the same story. Not the story without an end, but the story without a beginning. As in the Hindoo cosmogony, the world stands on an elephant, and the elephant on a tortoise, and the tortoise on--what? No man knows. I do not know. I only assert deliberately, waiting, as Napoleon says, till the world come round to me, that the tortoise does not stand--as is held by certain anthropologists, some honoured by me, some personally dear to me--upon the savages who chipped flints and fed on mammoth and reindeer in North-Western Europe, shortly after the age of ice, a few hundred thousand years ago. These sturdy little fellows--the kinsmen probably of the Esquimaux and Lapps--could have been but the _avant-couriers_, or more probably the fugitives from the true mass of mankind--spreading northward from the Tropics into climes becoming, after the long catastrophe of the age of ice, once more genial enough to support men who knew what decent comfort was, and were strong enough to get the same, by all means fair or foul. No. The tortoise of the human race does not stand on a savage. The savage may stand on an ape-like creature. I do not say that he does not. I do not say that he does. I do not know; and no man knows. But at least I say that the civilised man and his world stand not upon creatures like to any savage now known upon the earth. For first, it seems to be most unlikely; and next, and more important to an inductive philosopher, there is no proof of it. I see no savages becoming really civilised men--that is, not merely men who will ape the outside of our so-called civilisation, even absorb a few of our ideas; not merely that; but truly civilised men who will think for themselves, invent for themselves, act for themselves; and when the sacred lamp of light and truth has been passed into their hands, carry it on unextinguished, and transmit it to their successors without running back every moment to get it relighted by those from whom they received it: and who are bound--remember that--patiently and lovingly to relight it for them; to give freely to all their fellow-men of that which God has given to them and to their ancestors; and let God, not man, be judge of how much the Red Indian or the Polynesian, the Caffre or the Chinese, is capable of receiving and of using.

Moreover, in history there is no record, absolutely no record, as far as I am aware, of any savage tribe civilising itself. It is a bold saying. I stand by my assertion: most happy to find myself confuted, even in a single instance; for my being wrong would give me, what I can have no objection to possess, a higher opinion than I have now, of the unassisted capabilities of my fellow-men.

But civilisation must have begun somewhen, somewhere, with some person, or some family, or some nation; and how did it begin?

I have said already that I do not know. But I have had my dream--like the philosopher--and as I have not been ashamed to tell it elsewhere, I shall not be ashamed to tell it here. And it is this:

What if the beginnings of true civilisation in this unique, abnormal, diseased, unsatisfied, incomprehensible, and truly miraculous and supernatural race we call man, had been literally, and in actual fact, miraculous and supernatural likewise? What if that be the true key to the mystery of humanity and its origin? What if the few first chapters of the most ancient and most sacred book should point, under whatever symbols, to the actual and the only possible origin of civilisation, the education of a man, or a family by beings of some higher race than man? What if the old Puritan doctrine of Election should be even of a deeper and wider application than divines have been wont to think? What if individuals, if peoples, have been chosen out from time to time for a special illumination, that they might be the lights of the earth, and the salt of the world? What if they have, each in their turn, abused that divine teaching to make themselves the tyrants, instead of the ministers, of the less enlightened? To increase the inequalities of nature by their own selfishness, instead of decreasing them, into the equality of grace, by their own self-sacrifice? What if the Bible after all was right, and even more right than we were taught to think?

So runs my dream. If, after I have confessed to it, you think me still worth listening to, in this enlightened nineteenth century, I will go on.

At all events, what we see at the beginning of all known and half-known history, is not savagery, but high civilisation, at least of an outward and material kind. Do you demur? Then recollect, I pray you, that the three oldest peoples known to history on this planet are Egypt, China, Hindostan. The first glimpses of the world are always like those which the book of Genesis gives us; like those which your own continent gives us. As it was 400 years ago in America, so it was in North Africa and in Asia 4000 years ago, or 40,000 for aught I know. Nay, if anyone should ask--And why not 400,000 years ago, on Miocene continents long sunk beneath the Tropic sea? I for one have no rejoinder save--We have no proofs as yet.

There loom up, out of the darkness of legend, into the as yet dim dawn of history, what the old Arabs call Races of pre-Adamite Sultans--colossal monarchies, with fixed and often elaborate laws, customs, creeds; with aristocracies, priesthoods--seemingly always of a superior and conquering race; with a mass of common folk, whether free or half-free, composed of older conquered races; of imported slaves too, and their descendants.

But whence comes the royal race, the aristocracy, the priesthood? You inquire, and you find that they usually know not themselves. They are usually--I had almost dared to say, always--foreigners. They have crossed the neighbouring mountains. The have come by sea, like Dido to Carthage, like Manco Cassae and Mama Belle to America, and they have sometimes forgotten when. At least they are wiser, stronger, fairer, than the aborigines. They are to them--as Jacques Cartier was to the Indians of Canada--as gods. They are not sure that they are not descended from gods. They are the Children of the Sun, or what not. The children of light, who ray out such light as they have, upon the darkness of their subjects. They are at first, probably, civilisers, not conquerors. For, if tradition is worth anything--and we have nothing else to go upon--they are at first few in number. They come as settlers, or even as single sages. It is, in all tradition, not the many who influence the few, but the few who influence the many.

So aristocracies, in the true sense, are formed.

But the higher calling is soon forgotten. The purer light is soon darkened in pride and selfishness, luxury and lust; as in Genesis, the sons of God see the daughters of men, that they are fair; and they take them wives of all that they choose. And so a mixed race springs up and increases, without detriment at first to the commonwealth. For, by a well-known law of heredity, the cross between two races, probably far apart, produces at first a progeny possessing the forces, and, alas! probably the vices of both. And when the sons of God go in to the daughters of men, there are giants in the earth in those days, men of renown. The Roman Empire, remember, was never stronger than when the old Patrician blood had mingled itself with that of every nation round the Mediterranean.

But it does not last. Selfishness, luxury, ferocity, spread from above, as well as from below. The just aristocracy of virtue and wisdom becomes an unjust one of mere power and privilege; that again, one of mere wealth corrupting and corrupt; and is destroyed, not by the people from below, but by the monarch from above. The hereditary bondsmen may know

Who would be free,
Himself must strike the blow.

But they dare not, know not how. The king must do it for them. He must become the State. "Better one tyrant," as Voltaire said, "than many." Better stand in fear of one lion far away, than of many wolves, each in the nearest wood. And so arise those truly monstrous Eastern despotisms, of which modern Persia is, thank God, the only remaining specimen; for Turkey and Egypt are too amenable of late years to the influence of the free nations to be counted as despotisms pure and simple--despotisms in which men, instead of worshipping a God-man, worship the hideous counterfeit, a Man-god--a poor human being endowed by public opinion with the powers of deity, while he is the slave of all the weaknesses of humanity. But such, as an historic fact, has been the last stage of every civilisation--even that of Rome, which ripened itself upon this earth the last in ancient times, and, I had almost said, until this very day, except among the men who speak Teutonic tongues, and who have preserved through all temptations, and reasserted through all dangers, the free ideas which have been our sacred heritage ever since Tacitus beheld us, with respect and awe, among our German forests, and saw in us the future masters of the Roman Empire.

Yes, it is very sad, the past history of mankind. But shall we despise those who went before us, and on whose accumulated labours we now stand?

Shall we not reverence our spiritual ancestors? Shall we not show our reverence by copying them, at least whenever, as in those old Persians, we see in them manliness and truthfulness, hatred of idolatries, and devotion to the God of light and life and good? And shall we not feel pity, instead of contempt, for their ruder forms of government, their ignorances, excesses, failures--so excusable in men who, with little or no previous teaching, were trying to solve for themselves for the first time the deepest social and political problems of humanity.

Yes, those old despotisms we trust are dead, and never to revive. But their corpses are the corpses, not of our enemies, but of our friends and predecessors, slain in the world-old fight of Ormuzd against Ahriman--light against darkness, order against disorder. Confusedly they fought, and sometimes ill: but their corpses piled the breach and filled the trench for us, and over their corpses we step on to what should be to us an easy victory--what may be to us, yet, a shameful ruin.

For if we be, as we are wont to boast, the salt of the earth and the light of the world, what if the salt should lose its savour? What if the light which is in us should become darkness? For myself, when I look upon the responsibilities of the free nations of modern times, so far from boasting of that liberty in which I delight--and to keep which I freely, too, could die--I rather say, in fear and trembling, God help us on whom He has laid so heavy a burden as to make us free; responsible, each individual of us, not only to ourselves, but to Him and all mankind. For if we fall we shall fall I know not whither, and I dare not think.

How those old despotisms, the mighty empires of old time, fell, we know, and we can easily explain. Corrupt, luxurious, effeminate, eaten out by universal selfishness and mutual fear, they had at last no organic coherence. The moral anarchy within showed through, at last burst through, the painted skin of prescriptive order which held them together. Some braver and abler, and usually more virtuous people, often some little, hardy, homely mountain tribe, saw that the fruit was ripe for gathering; and, caring naught for superior numbers--and saying with German Alaric when the Romans boasted of their numbers, "The thicker the hay the easier it is mowed"--struck one brave blow at the huge inflated wind-bag--as Cyrus and his handful of Persians struck at the Medes; as Alexander and his handful of Greeks struck afterwards at the Persians--and behold, it collapsed upon the spot. And then the victors took the place of the conquered; and became in their turn an aristocracy, and then a despotism; and in their turn rotted down and perished. And so the vicious circle repeated itself, age after age, from Egypt and Assyria to Mexico and Peru.

And therefore, we, free peoples as we are, have need to watch, and sternly watch, ourselves. Equality of some kind or other is, as I said, our natural and seemingly inevitable goal. But which equality? For there are two--a true one and a false; a noble and a base; a healthful and a ruinous. There is the truly divine equality, and there is the brute equality of sheep and oxen, and of flies and worms. There is the equality which is founded on mutual envy. The equality which respects others, and the equality which asserts itself. The equality which longs to raise all alike, and the equality which desires to pull down all alike. The equality which says: Thou art as good as I, and it may be better too, in the sight of God. And the equality which says: I am as good as thou, and will therefore see if I cannot master thee.

Side by side, in the heart of every free man, and every free people, are the two instincts struggling for the mastery, called by the same name, but bearing the same relation to each other as Marsyas to Apollo, the Satyr to the God. Marsyas and Apollo, the base and the noble, are, as in the old Greek legend, contending for the prize. And the prize is no less a one than all free people of this planet.

In proportion as that nobler idea conquers, and men unite in the equality of mutual respect and mutual service, they move one step farther towards realising on earth that Kingdom of God of which it is written: "The despots of the nations exercise dominion over them, and they that exercise authority over them are called benefactors. But he that will be great among you let him be the servant of all."

And in proportion as that base idea conquers, and selfishness, not self- sacrifice, is the ruling spirit of a State, men move on, one step forward, towards realising that kingdom of the devil upon earth, "Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost." Only, alas! in that evil equality of envy and hate, there is no hindmost, and the devil takes them all alike.

And so is a period of discontent, revolution, internecine anarchy, followed by a tyranny endured, as in old Rome, by men once free, because tyranny will at least do for them what they were too lazy and greedy and envious to do for themselves.

And all because they have forgot
What 'tis to be a man--to curb and spurn.
The tyrant in us: the ignobler self
Which boasts, not loathes, its likeness to the brute;
And owns no good save ease, no ill save pain,
No purpose, save its share in that wild war
In which, through countless ages, living things
Compete in internecine greed. Ah, loving God,
Are we as creeping things, which have no lord?
That we are brutes, great God, we know too well;
Apes daintier-featured; silly birds, who flaunt
Their plumes, unheeding of the fowler's step;
Spiders, who catch with paper, not with webs;
Tigers, who slay with cannon and sharp steel,
Instead of teeth and claws:--all these we are.
Are we no more than these, save in degree?
Mere fools of nature, puppets of strong lusts,
Taking the sword, to perish by the sword
Upon the universal battle-field,
Even as the things upon the moor outside?

The heath eats up green grass and delicate herbs;
The pines eat up the heath; the grub the pine;
The finch the grub; the hawk the silly finch;
And man, the mightiest of all beasts of prey,
Eats what he lists. The strong eat up the weak;
The many eat the few; great nations, small;
And he who cometh in the name of all
Shall, greediest, triumph by the greed of all,
And, armed by his own victims, eat up all.
While ever out of the eternal heavens
Looks patient down the great magnanimous God,
Who, Master of all worlds, did sacrifice
All to Himself? Nay: but Himself to all;
Who taught mankind, on that first Christmas Day,
What 'tis to be a man--to give, not take;
To serve, not rule; to nourish, not devour;
To lift, not crush; if need, to die, not live.

"He that cometh in the name of all"--the popular military despot--the "saviour of his country"--he is our internecine enemy on both sides of the Atlantic, whenever he rises--the inaugurator of that Imperialism, that Caesarism into which Rome sank, when not her liberties merely, but her virtues, were decaying out of her--the sink into which all wicked States, whether republics or monarchies, are sure to fall, simply because men must eat and drink for to-morrow they die. The Military and Bureaucratic Despotism which keeps the many quiet, as in old Rome, by _panem et circenses_--bread and games--or, if need be, Pilgrimages; that the few may make money, eat, drink, and be merry, as long as it can last. That, let it ape as it may--as did the Caesars of old Rome at first--as another Emperor did even in our own days--the forms of dead freedom, really upholds an artificial luxury by brute force; and consecrates the basest of all aristocracies, the aristocracy of the money-bag, by the divine sanction of the bayonet.

That at all risks, even at the price of precious blood, the free peoples of the earth must ward off from them; for, makeshift and stop-gap as it is, it does not even succeed in what it tries to do. It does not last. Have we not seen that it does not, cannot last? How can it last? This falsehood, like all falsehoods, must collapse at one touch of Ithuriel's spear of truth and fact. And--

"Then saw I the end of these men. Namely, how Thou dost set them in slippery places, and casteth them down. Suddenly do they perish, and come to a fearful end. Yea, like as a dream when one awaketh, so shalt Thou make their image to vanish out of the city."

Have we not seen that too, though, thank God, neither in England nor in the United States?

And then? What then? None knows, and none can know.

The future of France and Spain, the future of the Tropical Republics of Spanish America, is utterly blank and dark; not to be prophesied, I hold, by mortal man, simply because we have no like cases in the history of the past whereby to judge the tendencies of the present. Will they revive? Under the genial influences of free institutions will the good seed which is in them take root downwards, and bear fruit upwards? and make them all what that fair France has been, in spite of all her faults, so often in past years--a joy and an inspiration to all the nations round? Shall it be thus? God grant it may; but He, and He alone, can tell. We only stand by, watching, if we be wise, with pity and with fear, the working out of a tremendous new social problem, which must affect the future of the whole civilised world.

For if the agonising old nations fail to regenerate themselves, what can befall? What, when even Imperialism has been tried and failed, as fail it must? What but that lower depth within the lowest deep?

That last dread mood
Of sated lust, and dull decrepitude.
No law, no art, no faith, no hope, no God.
When round the freezing founts of life in peevish ring,
Crouched on the bare-worn sod,
Babbling about the unreturning spring,
And whining for dead creeds, which cannot save,
The toothless nations shiver to their grave.

And we, who think we stand, let us take heed lest we fall. Let us accept, in modesty and in awe, the responsibility of our freedom, and remember that that freedom can be preserved only in one old-fashioned way. Let us remember that the one condition of a true democracy is the same as the one condition of a true aristocracy, namely, virtue. Let us teach our children, as grand old Lilly taught our forefathers 300 years ago--"It is virtue, gentlemen, yea, virtue that maketh gentlemen; that maketh the poor rich, the subject a king, the lowborn noble, the deformed beautiful. These things neither the whirling wheel of fortune can overturn, nor the deceitful cavillings of worldlings separate, neither sickness abate, nor age abolish."

Yes. Let us teach our children thus on both sides of the Atlantic. For if they--which God forbid--should grow corrupt and weak by their own sins, there is no hardier race now left on earth to conquer our descendants and bring them back to reason, as those old Jews were brought by bitter shame and woe. And all that is before them and the whole civilised world, would be long centuries of anarchy such as the world has not seen for ages--a true Ragnarok, a twilight of the very gods, an age such as the wise woman foretold in the old Voluspa.

When brethren shall be
Each other's bane,
And sisters' sons rend
The ties of kin.
Hard will be that age,
An age of bad women,
An axe-age, a sword-age,
Shields oft cleft in twain,
A storm-age, a wolf-age,
Ere earth meet its doom.

So sang, 2000 years ago, perhaps, the great unnamed prophetess, of our own race, of what might be, if we should fail mankind and our own calling and election.

God grant that day may never come. But God grant, also, that if that day does come, then may come true also what that wise Vala sang, of the day when gods, and men, and earth should be burnt up with fire.

When slaked Surtur's flame is,
Still the man and the maiden,
Hight Valour and Life,
Shall keep themselves hid
In the wood of remembrance.
The dew of the dawning
For food it shall serve them:
From them spring new peoples.

New peoples. For after all is said, the ideal form of human society is democracy.

A nation--and, were it even possible, a whole world--of free men, lifting free foreheads to God and Nature; calling no man master--for one is their master, even God; knowing and obeying their duties towards the Maker of the Universe, and therefore to each other, and that not from fear, nor calculation of profit or loss, but because they loved and liked it, and had seen the beauty of righteousness and trust and peace; because the law of God was in their hearts, and needing at last, it may be, neither king nor priest, for each man and each woman, in their place, were kings and priests to God. Such a nation--such a society--what nobler conception of mortal existence can we form? Would not that be, indeed, the kingdom of God come on earth?

And tell me not that that is impossible--too fair a dream to be ever realised. All that makes it impossible is the selfishness, passions, weaknesses, of those who would be blest were they masters of themselves, and therefore of circumstances; who are miserable because, not being masters of themselves, they try to master circumstance, to pull down iron walls with weak and clumsy hands, and forget that he who would be free from tyrants must first be free from his worst tyrant, self.

But tell me not that the dream is impossible. It is so beautiful that it must be true. If not now, nor centuries hence, yet still hereafter. God would never, as I hold, have inspired man with that rich imagination had He not meant to translate, some day, that imagination into fact.

The very greatness of the idea, beyond what a single mind or generation can grasp, will ensure failure on failure--follies, fanaticisms, disappointments, even crimes, bloodshed, hasty furies, as of children baulked of their holiday.

But it will be at last fulfilled, filled full, and perfected; not perhaps here, or among our peoples, or any people which now exist on earth: but in some future civilisation--it may be in far lands beyond the sea--when all that you and we have made and done shall be as the forest-grown mounds of the old nameless civilisers of the Mississippi valley.

[The end]
Charles Kingsley's essay: Ancient Civilisation